According to her office, Jill Biden, the first lady, will depart late Thursday for Eastern Europe, where she will meet with Ukrainian refugees who have been displaced by the Russian invasion and tour the Slovakian border with Ukraine.
The first stop on her itinerary is slated on Friday in Romania, where she will meet with members of the United States military as part of her project to help military families, known as Joining Forces. It is expected that she will meet with Romania’s first lady (and current prime minister), Carmen Iohannis, on Saturday to express her support for the country’s government, which has taken in approximately 850,000 of the more than five million Ukrainian refugees who have arrived since the Russian invasion began in February, according to figures released by the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Dr. Biden’s trip will be his second international excursion. Last summer, she was the leader of a group to the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo, which she attended.
However, the stakes in this visit are greater on the diplomatic and humanitarian fronts. Her scheduled visit to a border crossing in Vysne Nemecke, Slovakia, on Ukraine’s western border on Sunday would make her the latest high-profile Biden administration official to go close to the fighting zone. She previously travelled close to the combat zone in January. Dr. Biden will meet with charity workers and take a tour of a neighbouring church that provides services to refugees and volunteers while he is in the area.
Dr. Biden, who is also a college English professor, will also pay a visit to a public school on Sunday that is hosting kids from the Ukrainian Republic. The East Wing of the White House announced that First Lady Michelle Obama will spend time with moms and children when the families participated in events to commemorate International Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 8.
Ashley Biden, the first couple’s daughter, had intended to join Dr. Biden on the trip, but the White House said Thursday night that she had been informed about close contact with someone who had tested positive for the coronavirus. An additional member of the delegation will be Mark Gitenstein, a longtime Biden confidant who now serves as the United States’ ambassador to the European Union.
Since Eleanor Roosevelt, visiting soldiers overseas — and demonstrating soft diplomacy — has been something of an unspoken prerequisite for first women across the world, regardless of their political party.
Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama all flew alone to military locations throughout the world to visit soldiers while serving as first lady. When Barbara Bush became weary of signing autographs during a 1990 visit to a Saudi Arabian base, she cracked a joke with a Marine. (“I’m starting to think I’m signing chequebooks,” she said to the Marine.)
Dr. Biden’s travel, on the other hand, has more diplomatic complications than just visiting American troops. The conflict in Ukraine has produced a massive refugee crisis, which has confronted President Biden with a number of pressing foreign policy challenges. His posture has moved from one of not wanting to create the appearance of a direct clash between Washington and Moscow to one of increased rhetoric and support for Ukraine in the previous several months.
It has been ten weeks since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. More than a month ago, President Joe Biden proclaimed in Poland that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin “cannot continue in power,” a comment that administration officials quickly clarified was not meant to be interpreted as a demand for a change of government. Mr. Biden asked for an additional $33 billion in military and humanitarian help for Ukraine only a few days ago. Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd J. Austin III paid a visit to Kyiv on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. The first lady will also go even closer to the Ukrainian border this weekend than the president, in order to demonstrate the administration’s support for the country.